‘Farscape: Complete Series’ – TV’s trippiest SF series at 25 on Peacock

Farscape (1999-2003), created by Rockne S. O’Bannon (who wrote the cult science fiction film Alien Nation) for the Sci-Fi channel (long before they rebranded themselves SyFy), was like no other SF show on TV. when it debuted in March 1999.

If you missed the trip through the wormhole, here’s the gist of it: Ben Browder is John Crichton, an American astronaut flung to the far side of the galaxy through a wormhole, landing on a living ship filled with fugitives from a Fascist authoritarian force ironically named Peacekeepers.

The crew is filled out by former Peacekeeper soldier Aeryn Sun (Claudia Black), the blue-skinned plant woman and priestess Zhaan (Virginia Hey), lion-maned, hot-tempered warrior D’Argo (Anthony Simcoe), overthrown emperor Rygel (a furry, self-involved Muppet), the giant mantis-like Pilot (another impressive Muppet, this one a huge creature whose scale we don’t discover until many episodes in) and, joining late in the first season, wild-child Chiana (Gigi Edgley). That’s right around the time that Scorpius (Wayne Pygram), the ash white half-breed alien with an SS streak in him and the best villain on sci-fi TV in his day, starts his obsessive hunt for Crichton and the wormhole technology that is hidden somewhere in his brain.

There’s the usual panoply of exotic aliens, marbled worlds, and spacescapes that look ripped from the cover of Amazing Stories, but Farscape was more than space opera and pulp adventure. There’s huge cultural gap between the crew of six motley fugitives who band together to survive, all with their own (often clashing) agendas. Their wanted status makes them a target any time they try to land and their desperation can lead to extreme measures; in one episode in the first season, DNA Mad Scientist, they’re offered a way home in exchange for a sample of their DNA and one of Pilot’s arms. They hack the appendage off with mercenary efficiency and then turn on each other.

As you may infer from this description, the totalitarian worlds and mercenary survivors they meet are a far cry from the Federation friendly universe of Star Trek, and the dark art direction and wild, often grotesque creatures (courtesy of Jim Henson studios) gives it a visual sensibility far removed from the cool, uncluttered, well-lit ideals of The Enterprise. There isn’t a sci-fi show that has done more with less: textured sets, organic designs, colorful worlds and races. And it is action packed, with wild twists and turns and ingenious narrative nooks and crannies.

Chaos as the normal state of being for the crew of Moya and the lost-in-space American astronaut Crichton and the tangled relationships just keep getting knottier and naughtier through the run. There are interstellar heists, royal intrigues, clones, resurrections, family feuds, alternate realities and even an animated episode where Crichton replays his conflict with an enraged, adrenaline-booted D’Argo as a bizarre Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote-style cartoon dream.

It became the first trademark hit for the Sci-Fi Channel and fans were close to revolt when their cult space opera was abruptly cancelled. Each season ends with a wicked cliffhanger and the fourth (which turned out to be the final) season ends on an episode called Bad Timing (a dig, surely, at the last minute cancellation of the show) that leaves the series on a bizarre cliffhanger and a “To be continued…” that almost wasn’t.

A subsequent two-part TV film, directed by Brian Henson from a script by creators Rockne S. O’Bannon and David Kemper, was the Sci-Fi channel’s compromise. Everything that the series promised—the inevitable war between the Peacekeepers and the vicious Scarran Empire, the deadly legacy of John Crichton’s “wormhole technology,” the birth of an outlaw baby—comes to pass, as well as some unexpected revelations that were surely meant to be rolled out in a more leisurely manner. But while the show always had a breathless feeling of things rushing out of control, this three-hour climax compacts a season’s worth of revelations and complications into a story that can’t hold it all. For the fans, however, this taste of what the final season should have been is still a welcome conclusion to what was the best sci-fi TV of its day.

The Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films named it the best syndicated/cable television series three years running and it earned an Emmy nomination for its costume design.


Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video, iTunes, GooglePlay, Fandango, Vudu and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
Farscape: 15th Anniversary Complete Series Collection [Blu-ray]
Farscape: The Complete Series (15th Anniversary Edition) [Blu-ray]
Farscape: 15th Anniversary Complete Series Collection [DVD]
Farscape: The Complete Series (15th Anniversary Edition) [DVD]
Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars [DVD]

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On Blu-ray and DVD from New Video and Flatiron, which both present the complete series without the mini-series finale; you need to purchase that separately (so far on DVD only in the U.S.). With that caveat, the shows were released on disc with a lavish set of supplements, all of them carried over in the box sets. The 15th Anniversary editions present all 88 episodes of the show on both DVD (27 discs) and Blu-ray (20 discs) with the retrospective documentary “Memories of Moya: An Epic Journey Explored” and all the commentary tracks (31 in all, with multiple tracks on a couple of episodes), featurettes, interviews, character profiles, deleted scenes, galleries and other goodies seen on earlier releases from show. The only real new supplement to the set is a mini-comic book with a Farscape story and an interview with producer Brian Henson. And like the previous edition, it lacks an episode guide and a supplement menu. You have to put the discs in to find out which episodes feature commentary tracks and deleted scenes, and which discs feature the other supplements (most are on the final disc of each season, but not all).


Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.